The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: mothers

Mothers: The Gift of Endurance

Mom and me walking copy

With Mom in Calgary (1960)

MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE BEEN 98 THIS YEAR.  Losing her some 35 years ago was difficult; today she is my constant companion.

Meeting my father when he was on leave in Edinburgh, Scotland, during World War Two introduced her to a future she could never have predicted. She became a Scottish war bride in 1944 by marrying her Canadian soldier. There was lots of that in those days, and the hotels were so full that they had to spend their summer wedding night in a cow pasture. It was likely to be her last moment of real peace before the madness of war and personal tumult invaded her world.

Six months later she received a telegram from the War Department, saying that Dad had been missing and presumed killed in the Italian campaign. I kept that telegram for years. Devastated, like so many other remarkable young women of that time, she maintained her work schedule at the local munitions factory and attempted to bury the pain.

D-Day was occupying everyone’s mind and correspondence was heavily censored so that no secrets would be revealed. Only when the invasion was accomplished did she receive a telegram from Canada. It was from my father in Calgary, in convalescence from being shot twice – he had, in fact, survived. He wondered why she hadn’t contacted him after he sent all those letters saying he was struggling after being sent back to Canada from hospital in North Africa. Letters had been held up because of the military campaign and he had never known she had received the telegram saying he had perished.

Proceeding by ship to Canada, she met my Dad in Calgary as they tried to build a life together. My brother and I were born during that time (1945 and 1950 respectively), but my father’s wounds meant he was incapable of solid work. It was then determined that she should take the kids back to Scotland while he attempted to find employment. So here was this struggling woman, with a five-year old and a nine-month old, taking the train back to Montreal for the return journey to her homeland. Five years later Dad found a job with Imperial Oil and asked her to return, which she did within the year.

The following years were anything but easy for Mom, including bouts of alcoholism and depression – the reason I haven’t written of this until now. It was never easy, but through it all she walked me to school, taught me to put others first, to never forget Scotland, to throw myself into life rather than backing into it, and in the process I loved her with a full heart.

How did she do it? How did she manage to keep it all together when the entire world, including her own, was literally falling apart? In my mind, it was a miracle of tenacity in a world of unsurely – one of the legacies mothers leave to the human race. Some moms believe they have to train their kids to carry themselves in a cruel world. Fair enough, but Mom continued to remind me to play a role in actually making the world a bit more kind and just – remarkable. The training of her children was her direct answer to a supposedly hopeless world. I was her downpayment to a better future – God, what a thought. And what a responsibility!

Dorothy Fisher once wrote: “A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” But if that is so, why do I tilt so much towards her now? Because I need her? No, because I love her, just as I did following my first breath and her last. Catherine Wiseman Pearson – a woman of her time who transcends all time, of her generation and every generation. I am her son. I love you, Mom.

The Final Hello

Jane and mom

IT SEEMS LIKE MOTHERS HAVE TO SAY “GOODBYE” more than anyone else on earth. The list seems almost endless and runs the gamut of emotions, from sadness to delight, from loss to fulfillment.

Through all the ups and downs, the years bring on an endless string of goodbyes. There is that first day of school when that young life begins the process of spreading his or her wings. Many are the parents who can attest to the tears they shed that day. Then come those occasions when the son or daughter are older and no longer wish to just cuddle and accept a kiss in front of others – another painful goodbye.

The years continue and to the previous list of farewells come those marvelous occasions where the children marry, but the mother realizes that one of her chief tasks in life has been achieved and all she can hope for is that all her years of nurture will be remembered and rewarded.

In between it all often come the farewells, perhaps, to a career, that very first home, deaths in the family, even good health. A mother is always there, being present as required, watching over the grandkids, helping with a move. But ultimately she must say goodbye to a world and people she can no longer gather around her, keeping them supported and secure. It all represents one of the more subtle tragedies of motherhood.

And yet there’s more than one side. Someone who puts so much love and care into people might not realize it at the time, but all that attention to others will come back in the end. I have witnessed this in the past two months to a degree that is remarkable and awe-inspiring.

Jane’s 92-year old mother, Margaret, is in her final days at St. Joseph’s Hospice in London. She would have every right to complain of pain, a sense of saying goodbye to her home for the last time, and of her loss of independence. She had graduated from university in 1950, at a time when a woman pursuing such a path wasn’t all that common. She was married and for her entire life with her husband there was this mysterious and stirring sense that deep and romantic love was still in the air when they were together. And she had four daughters, as distinct from one another as you might expect but who have, together, offered loving support in these final times.

I sometimes spend the night with Jane and her Mom and it’s so much like going to church or being caught off-guard by something mysterious in Nature. The entire atmosphere of the hospice is like some grand orchestral piece that is meant to harmonize support as the time approaches. Staff and volunteers touchingly understand that they are the hands that carry someone like Margaret through the final transition. Family is always there, catering to Margaret in every detail.

And so there she is: a loving mother surrounded by people ready to say goodbye and understanding that her time is short. One would think such a farewell would characterize the remaining hours or days, but Margaret has made sure to transcend that outlook as only a mother can.

Following one of her bad nights, Jane and I got up in the morning, wondering if she was still with us. Jane kissed her forehead, silent. And as if the clouds broke on the horizon, Margaret opened her eyes, smiled as beautiful a smile as I have ever seen in my life, and said, “Hello, Jane.” I flooded with tears then, as I do now. Jane fell into her arms – two mothers celebrating life.

Everything this remarkable woman worked on and believed in all her life was coming to her just as she needed them. Her daughters never left her alone. A caring staff was always there for what needed to be done. God was in her thoughts as she had hoped. And increasingly she was thinking about her husband, who she believed would embrace her the moment her eyes shut for the last time, taking her for a waltz.

Even in her advanced years, and in the face of life’s last visitor, she had done what she always did – gathered her family, loved, showed grace, thanked everyone for their ministrations. Like every mother she had her life of goodbye’s, but in this, her most challenging and final time, she was saying “hello,” just as mothers always do and why we eventually always rush back to their embrace.

I possess none of those remarkable qualities Margaret is showing, but for me, right now, it is enough to embrace the miracle of motherhood and how all good things return to a caring woman just as she needs them. When I see her saying “hello” to her daughters, I realize that even in death, love will prevail. Such is the genius of motherhood.

Home, But Not Alone

IMG_2548On Saturday we leave for our big excursion to the Republic of South Sudan.  We take a team of 16 other Canadians with us and there will be lots of challenges.  My health will be an issue since it wasn’t too long ago that I came out of major surgery, but we trust it will hold up.

But this year one special traveller will be journeying with us and for him the next few weeks promise to take him through an emotional roller coaster.  Our son, Ater, is 15, and this will be his first trip back to Sudan since he came to us six years ago.  Then he was just a small boy who, with his sister Achan, had suffered through the loss of their mother and were orphaned at a young age.  Their arrival in Canada proved to be a pivotal moment in their development and they have flourished beyond what we even imagined.

But always – always – Jane and I have known that he was a gift we were meant to nurture.  We have seen enough travail in the world, some of it brutal, to know that adoption is but one of the great redemptive acts by which we help to heal the tragedy of a broken world.  Deep down, it is the troubling acknowledgement that the world is indeed in need of recovery – and compassion.

This trip has come at a time when Ater’s world is full of possibility.  He has a remarkable ability to work with those who suffer – far greater than mine – and yet he is trapped in the years of youth when he still has to work things out.  Two weeks ago he started working at a McDonald’s near to us and life has been good.

What will he think now, as he returns to his ancestral home and revisits the pain he endured as a boy caring for his younger sister following the loss of their mother?  He will see some remarkable changes due to the realities of a peace that has only recently come, and an altered landscape as a result of climate change.  Villages are disappearing as the Sahara encroaches and the rains come weeks late, or not at all.  It was a world he only knew instinctively – its threats, the endless search for food and water, death, love, the endless gnawing of living in a world on the edge of extremes.  Shortly he will view it as an outsider, more objectively, and perhaps with a little alarm.

But inevitably, imperceptibly at first, emotions will come creeping back into his conscience.  This was once his world – the depravity and horror of it, the devotion of a mother’s love, the courage of a remarkable people, the shuddering reality of relentless war, the ongoing responsibility of caring for a young sibling in a world with few resources.

He had been in Canada about six months when he suddenly started screaming in the night. What was it we wondered? We held and affirmed him, feeling totally incapable in the process.  It was only later that he recounted to us of the nightmares he endured at the sight of seeing his mother shot in brutal fashion.  He even remembered the colour of dress she was wearing and how blood suddenly soaked through it.  Will those thoughts come flooding back?  Will he seek to put such things away or embrace them in the relentless tug of the enduring love his mother once gave him?  He lives because she scooped up her children and fled for safety in a war zone. Surely he comprehends what kind of bravery that would take, but will he seek to get to know her better through memory and the surroundings of his homeland?

He will be a rock star over there – the one who escaped to Canada and now even has an iPhone.  He will be healthy and educated and his home community will marvel at the change.  But he is still Sudanese and being back with his people once more will surely reintroduce realities to his young heart that might have lain dormant for a time. We can only pray this his two worlds can begin the process of reconciliation in his wonderful mind.

And what of Jane and me?  Will we handle it well, being there when the questions inevitably arise?  We can only hope so.  As he helps us provide clean water, give goats and sheep to returning exiles and former slaves, and even helps make bricks for the secondary school we are constructing – the only one in the region – will he suddenly see himself in the massive needs of the people around him?  If so, we must be there for him.

Jane will surely come to terms with the reality that this special boy grew in her heart the way he once grew in his Sudanese mother’s womb, and there will be a sense of wonder in that.  And we will watch him together, reflecting on the words of Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant:

“There,” she said. She rocked him back and forth. “There, you foolish, beautiful boy who wants to change the world. There, there. And who could keep from loving you? Who could keep from loving a boy so brave and true?”

Brave and true he is, but he is still a boy and he is about to see the world as it once was for him.  Think of him, if you can.  Pray for him even.  For he will be a young man returning home who will hopefully understand he will never be alone again.

%d bloggers like this: